Best Cell Phone Coverage 2020

What’s the point of a cell phone if you can’t use it?

Who has the best cell phone coverage?

There are four major wireless networks in the United States battling it out for coverage superiority. To determine which network provides the most reliable coverage across the country, we looked at coverage data compiled by WhistleOut.1 As it stands right now, these are the power rankings for best wireless coverage:

  1. Verizon: 70% 4G coverage
  2. AT&T: 68% 4G coverage
  3. T-Mobile: 62% 4G coverage
  4. Sprint: 27% 4G coverage

It’s a super close finish between Verizon and AT&T, but Verizon pulls ahead and wins the championship belt for best cell phone coverage. T-Mobile puts up a good fight and Sprint barely shows up.

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Why does coverage matter?
Your phone doesn’t work without a signal. And there are plenty of places where you don’t want to be without a signal. The DMV is the first place that comes to mind.

Verizon network: Best coverage

Verizon offers the most reliable coverage in the country.

Pros

  • Top coverage
  • Fastest download speeds

Cons

  • Expensive

What we like

Verizon offers by far the most coverage in the country. If you constantly find yourself without a signal, Verizon will be your best friend.

Top coverage

Verizon covers 70% 4G service across the country.1 On average, Verizon users report getting 4G coverage 95.9% of the time while using Verizon’s network.2 Depending upon where you are in the country, your coverage will probably feel even more reliable than that. The only pockets of America you need to worry about are more rural areas in the Southwest, Midwest, and Northwest. If you live close to any big cities in those areas, you should expect super reliable coverage.

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How would you rank Verizon’s coverage experience on a scale of 1–10?
Verizon users were asked to rate their coverage experience on the network, and the average summed out to a whopping 9.7 out of 10. That’s like a movie scoring 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s like the Knives Out of wireless carriers.

Fast download speeds

We know that Verizon offers the best service, but what about the network’s data speeds? Unsurprisingly, Verizon boasts some of the best data speeds in the country, clocking in around 25.3 Mbps. You’ll notice we didn’t say *the* best data speeds—T-Mobile currently owns the fastest data speeds, but Verizon is a close second.

Instagram stories, YouTube videos, and online gaming apps should all pull up quickly and smoothly on Verizon’s network.

What we don’t like

Wouldn’t it be great if Verizon somehow managed to have the best coverage and cheap prices at the same time? Well, it doesn’t. Verizon plans are some of the most expensive phone plans out there.

Expensive

Since Verizon serves up the most reliable coverage in the country, getting on its network feels pricey. It’s kind of like eating at the fanciest restaurant in town—you have to pay an arm and a leg, but damn it if the food’s not delicious.

Here’s how the pricing breaks down for Verizon data plans:

Verizon plans get expensive fast, jumping up to $90 for its Get More Unlimited plan. You can find much cheaper wireless plans with unlimited data on different networks, but you won’t enjoy the same coverage reliability.

Alternative carriers on Verizon’s network

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What is an MVNO?
MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator. Translation: alternative carriers that piggyback on other wireless networks to provide service. MVNO carriers can charge lower rates for cell phone plans, but the tradeoff is your data and coverage can slow down in congested areas.

If Verizon’s plans cost a little too much, you can always get on Verizon’s network through an MVNO. An MVNO basically feels kind of like getting the cheap seats at a really expensive concert—you get to see the show, but you don’t always get the best view.

You can use an MVNO mobile provider that works on Verizon’s network, but you’ll occasionally run into deprioritization. In other words, your data speeds and coverage could drop in more congested areas because the Verizon network gives priority to Verizon customers.

Our favorite Verizon MVNO is easily Visible Wireless, which offers an unlimited plan for $40 on Verizon’s network. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the Verizon MVNOs on the table below.

AT&T Wireless: Third-best coverage, fastest download speeds

AT&T offers decent coverage and speedy downloads.

Pros

  • Second best coverage
  • Free streaming data

Cons

  • Some dead spots

What we like

AT&T falls right behind T-Mobile in terms of coverage (by a single percent!), but it wins the download speeds battle between the two providers.

Second-best coverage

As it stands in March of 2020, AT&T network covers 68% of the country, and AT&T users report enjoying reliable coverage 92.9% of the time.1 It’s about a 1–2% coverage drop from Verizon to AT&T, making the coverage difference virtually unrecognizable for most the country. The difference between the two providers basically comes down to rural coverage. Verizon covers a few more remote areas that AT&T does not, but the coverage should generally feel the same in the vast majority of the country.

Fast download speeds

What AT&T lacks in coverage, it makes up for in data speeds. From 2019 to 2020, AT&T improved its download speeds from 17.8 Mbps to 27.5 Mbps.1 Seriously, improving by 54.5% and taking the top spot for the best 4G download speeds out of nowhere is impressive.

Average data download speeds in 2020

Download Speeds Graph

Source: Open Signal

With an average download speed of 27.5 Mbps, you should have no problem pulling up YouTube streams, Twitter videos, or Instagram stories. You should also be able to download apps without a problem.

What we don’t like

Most of the country is covered, but you should still look at AT&T’s coverage map. For example, if you live in Nebraska, you should really double check the coverage map. AT&T’s network in Nebraska is as reliable as the Nebraska football program. (Sorry, that was a low blow, Nebraska.)

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Confessions of an AT&T user
I’ve been on an AT&T family plan for years and enjoyed mostly reliable coverage—except in more rural areas. I was just in Park City, Utah, for a Sundance Film Festival event and couldn’t get a signal. This was frustrating because I was trying to meet up with someone and couldn’t get a text out.

Providers on AT&T’s network

AT&T offers a bevy of data plans that you can choose from. Recently, AT&T cut some of its free streaming and TV perks, but AT&T mobile still offers plans on a reliable network.

AT&T data plans

AT&T data plans certainly fall on the pricier end of the spectrum, but you can get on AT&T’s service network through an MVNO as well.

Other providers on AT&T’s network

Going with an AT&T MVNO can cut your wireless bill in half. Your service won’t be quite as reliable on an MVNO, but you shouldn’t see too dramatic of a difference. In particular, we are fans of PureTalk USA and Cricket Mobile.

T-Mobile: Third-best coverage, fastest upload speeds

Strong coverage with super fast data speeds

Pros

  • Third-best coverage
  • Fastest download speeds

Cons

  • Less reliable coverage in rural areas

What we like

T-Mobile’s coverage falls behind what Verizon and AT&T offers, but T-Mobile makes up for it in other places, like data speed.

Third-best coverage

It’s a significant drop off from Verizon’s 70% 4G service coverage to T-Mobile’s 62% coverage1—but that’s not how the users see it.

If it were a foot race between Verizon and T-Mobile, you would need a photograph to tell who finished first for the best cellular service, according to users. Thankfully, we have something better than a photograph (*Nickelback voice*)—we have a data graph:

Source: Opensignal

Verizon is only 0.5% more reliable than T-Mobile according to users but covers 11% more territory in the US.1 That’s because the main difference between T-Mobile coverage and Verizon coverage falls under rural areas. Verizon covers more of the remote spaces of the country, while T-Mobile specializes in coverage in more urban areas.

Fastest data upload speeds

T-Mobile’s network may come in second for national coverage, but it comes in first place for data upload speeds. This is a big deal for any of you who happen to post Instagram stories, Twitter videos, or YouTube videos. So, really, all of us.

Upload Experience Graph

Source: Opensignal

The average T-Mobile user gets an 8.6 Mbps upload speed, making it the fastest option for uploading your stuff to the internet.1

What we don’t like

T-Mobile’s coverage gets much more spotty as you venture out into the more rural areas of the country. For folks who spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, you might run into dead spots on T-Mobile’s network

Less reliable coverage in rural areas

T-Mobile should work for most people outside of rural areas, but there’s a 41% chunk of the United States without T-Mobile coverage.1 If you hail from the great states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, or Nevada, we would say to avoid T-Mobile altogether. You’re bound to run into dead zones frequently, and that’s annoying.

Providers on T-Mobile’s network

The most obvious choice for getting on T-Mobile’s network is, well, T-Mobile itself. T-Mobile’s unlimited data plans pack a lot of value, but they aren’t exactly dirt cheap.

T-Mobile unlimited plans

You can always go the budget route and opt for an MVNO that uses T-Mobile’s network. There are tons of options for MVNOs on T-Mobile’s network, but Mint Mobile would be our top recommendation.

MVNOs on T-Mobile’s network

Sprint: Fourth-best coverage, more affordable data plans

Sprint’s network is the least reliable of the big four networks, but it’s the most affordable.

Pros

  • Affordable plans

Cons

  • Worst network of the big four

What we like

Out of the big four providers, Sprint offers the cheapest data plans. You can pay as little as $35 a month for an unlimited data plan. The Unlimited Kickstart plan only costs $35 a month, which is half of what you would pay for Verizon’s basic unlimited plan. Maybe you can use that leftover cell phone bill money for a new Nintendo Switch game? I mean, I think I will.

If you live in a more populated area where you can count on Sprint service to work, you can get a pretty amazing deal for unlimited data.

What we don’t like

Sprint falls to last place for the best 4G service in the country. In 2020, Sprint covers only 27% of the country.1 On the plus side, Sprint users say they enjoy reliable coverage 92.5% of the time.2 It feels safe to assume that the Sprint mobile users who participated in the survey live in more populated areas.

Honestly, a Sprint plan only makes sense if you live where you can get a Sprint cell phone signal. If you live back east, you’ve got a nice coverage area that should support you just fine. But if you live anywhere west of Kansas and east of Los Angeles, your coverage area is super unreliable.

Providers on Sprint’s network

Sprint offers such a low price for its Unlimited Kickstart Plan that you would think it was an MVNO. Yes, the coverage is pretty bad, but you at least you don’t need to worry about getting deprioritized over other users. If we were you, we wouldn’t consider any plan other than the Unlimited Kickstart Plan.

Sprint data plans

You can save even more money by going for an MVNO on Sprint’s network. You’re taking a risk by getting an MVNO on the least-reliable big network in the country, but if you live in an area with Sprint coverage, you can get a killer deal.

Other providers on Sprint’s network

Who is Sprint best for?

  • Those who don’t need maximum coverage and want to save
  • City folks and those in surrounding areas
  • More budget-minded users

What we don’t like about Sprint

The downside is the less-than-great coverage.1 You’ll notice a drop in bars if you plan on venturing basically anywhere out west.

Honestly, a Sprint plan only makes sense if you live where you can get a Sprint cell phone signal. If you live back east, you’ve got a nice coverage area that should support you just fine. Beware to those who live anywhere west of Kansas and east of Los Angeles . . . your coverage area is super unreliable.

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What’s the deal with the Sprint and T-Mobile merger?
The Sprint and T-Mobile merger feels pretty imminent at this point and the good news is that the coverage area should increase substantially. On the other hand, a price increase also feels inevitable. It was nice while it lasted.

Make sure to double check in the coverage map above that Sprint covers your area. And if you want to dig a little deeper, you can read our full Sprint review.

Sprint unlimited plans and prices

Recap: you get what you pay for

If you pick the provider with the best coverage (Verizon), you have to cope with its higher-than-average price. In other words, you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for.

On the other hand, Sprint offers an amazing Unlimited Kickstart Plan, but unless you live and work in a big city, your coverage will definitely suffer.

To recap, here are the rankings for best coverage providers in the country:

Best cell phone coverage by carrier

  1. Verizon: 70% 4G coverage
  2. T-Mobile: 59% 4G coverage
  3. AT&T: 58% 4G coverage
  4. Sprint: 27% 4G coverage

Source: WhistleOut1

Whether you live in a rural area or a more urban area, coverage is a big deal. You never know when you’ll need to get a text out or make a call. Just think how many horror movies could’ve been prevented with good coverage.

How has your experience been with these providers? Any horror stories or tales of redemption? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Lisa S

    We currently have Verizon, covering 4 phones and a jetpack (my babies are now students in their 20s, so I’ve kept them on our plan). I need coverage because I travel for business. Any ideas on best phone plans for multiple lines?